Sarah Cunningham Sumner; Noted Violinist ‘Beacon’ In U.S. Baroque Revival



Sarah Cunningham Sumner;

Noted Violinist Was ‘Beacon’

In Baroque Revival In U.S.

Sarah Cunningham Sumner

SPRINGFIELD CENTER – Sarah Cunningham Sumner, a noted violinist involved in the revival of Baroque music in the United States in the 1970s, passed away Aug. 26, 2020, at the Cooperstown Center for Rehabilitation & Nursing.

Sarah was born on Aug. 31, 1925, in New York City and spent her childhood there and in Springfield Center. She attended Harvard at the age of 16, studying music composition with Walter Piston, matriculating magna cum laude in 1945.  She was then awarded a Harvard travelling fellowship, followed by a Fulbright scholarship to study composition in Paris with Nadia Boulanger.

It was after World War II, and she taught music at a camp in France for war orphans. Her fellow teachers, who were from France, Italy, England and the U.S., became her lifelong friends. One of them, Caroline Manning, became her sister-in-law, marrying her brother, Frederic (Ty) Cunningham.

Sarah married Frederick (Ted) Sumner in 1954. They moved to Duxbury, Mass., then to New York City, where both Sarah and Ted taught at the French Trent School, founded by another friend from the orphanage, Izaline Schlumberger Davidson. For this school, Sarah published a set of phonetic primers with her own illustrations.

In 1962, Sarah and Ted moved with their three young children to Rome, Italy, at the urging of another friend from the orphanage, Jacinta Del Gallo della Rocca Del Giovane DeRosa. The family stayed seven years, where Sarah continued composing and played violin with the Rome Orchestra.

They then moved to Haverford, Pa. In the early 1970s, Sarah embraced feminism and the Civil Rights Movement. She organized benefit concerts for anti-war organizations and civil rights candidates.

She became interested in baroque music, tried the baroque violin, fell in love with it and never looked back. She loved the amount of freedom for interpretation by players of the music. Baroque violinist, Marilyn McDonald, became her teacher, and later, collaborator.

With Ted, she moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., to work with the 13-member baroque orchestra, Ars Musica, one of only two resident Baroque Orchestras in the US at the time.

She taught at Oberlin Conservatory and the University of Michigan, and became a beacon in the baroque music revival, playing in baroque chamber groups in the U.S. and abroad, and recording with the Smithsonian Players, Harmonia Mundi and Pro Arte for Gasparo Records, Timegate Records and the Musical Heritage Society. Ars Musica’s recording of two of the Brandenburg concerti was named Critic’s Choice in High Fidelity Magazine.

Her compositions for baroque players and vocalists, from songs and choruses to chamber and chamber orchestra works, were performed in Europe and the U.S.

Upon returning to Otsego County, she continued her career with NYS Baroque in Ithaca, the Genesee Baroque Players, and The Glimmerglass Festival, where she played first violin in several seminal performances of the baroque operas, Monteverdi’s “L’Incoronazione di Poppea” and Cavalli’s “La Calisto,” which launched many local fans of this genre.

Probably too late but the Opera’s mentioned should b:Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea and Cavalli’s La Calisto.

Sarah retained her musical abilities up until the end, singing with family and caregivers, dancing with her walker, and playing the piano. She was an avid lover of literature, poetry and the visual arts, and along with the irrepressible Teddy Sumner, created ceramics, paintings, political posters, poetry and sculpture.

As lifelong Quakers, they could be seen at parades, protests and the Cooperstown Post Office, protesting war. They were part of a local writing group and loved being around friends and family. In one of her last letters, Sarah wrote, “Life, for us, seems so miraculous!”

Sarah was predeceased by her husband of 62 years, Frederick (Ted) Sumner; her siblings, Hetty Cunningham Dana, Frederic (Ty) Cunningham, Lawrence (Larry) Cunningham; her mother, Mary Blair (Minere) Wardwell Cunningham and father, Frederic Cunningham.

Sarah is survived by her daughter Tara (Edward Ford) of Springfield Center; their children, Alexander (Kim Shifrin) Ford, of Charlotte, Vt., and Chloe Ford of Cooperstown; daughters Nicole (Michael Smith) of San Francisco, Calif., and Sasha (Daniel Wiley) and their son Sam of Brooklyn; her brother Nicholas (Cathryn) Cunningham of New York City, and 14 nieces and nephews. She will also be remembered by numerous Wardwell, Cunningham and Sumner extended family and friends.

The Sumner family gives heartfelt thanks to Maureen Meyerhoff and all the caregivers and community members who welcomed and cared for her and Ted. Special thanks to the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), who embraced them, beginning with Quakers in Rome, Italy, continuing to the Haverford Friends Meeting, the Ann Arbor Friends Meeting and lastly, Butternuts Quaker Meeting, Oneonta.

Memorial gifts may be directed to the Otsego Land Trust.

2 thoughts on “Sarah Cunningham Sumner; Noted Violinist ‘Beacon’ In U.S. Baroque Revival

  1. sohnsmatthew

    What a wonderful women. She and her husband were always a pleasure to see. My thoughts are with their families. ❤️ Mary-Margaret ❤️

  2. Penelope Crawford

    Sarah was one of the most multi-talented, unique and memorable people I have ever known. What a life she and Ted led! So many of us will miss her.

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